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Wendy is an IFE Agent responsible for aggregating airline news specifically related to Inflight entertainment. She compiles stories relevant to business travelers, airline industry folks, marketers and tech geeks. IFE News doesn't create original content, but rather posts compelling editorial from global media outlets.

Defining What Qualifies as Anger in the Air

EVERY time I watch the television news, somebody is urgently talking about some new threat to become alarmed about. I’m thinking, in particular, about the scary report on CNN recently — widely cited in the media — that “air rage” incidents are up sharply.

Oh man, I muttered to myself. I thought we had basically gotten that under control a while ago, especially in the no-nonsense environment of the post-9/11 airplane cabin. Of course, incidents do occur. More than four million people board commercial flights around the world each day, about 1.7 million of them in the United States alone.

Obviously, not all of those people are reasonably sane, sober and law-abiding. But most of them certainly are.

So what accounts for this disturbing increase in air rage? The CNN report cited statistics from the International Air Transport Association, the group that represents most of the world’s airlines.

“Reported instances of unruly passengers rose approximately 29 percent between 2009 and 2010, and that follows an estimated 27 percent rise between 2008 and 2009,” Perry Flint, a spokesman for the association, said in an interview.

Data for last year are not yet available, but there is no indication that this trend suddenly reversed, the association says. It is holding its annual general meeting this week in Beijing.

Hang on a minute, though. After hearing this report, I checked the annual statistics on incidents involving “unruly passengers” that are kept for domestic flights by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Last year, there were 131 unruly passenger reports on flights in the United States — the fewest in the last 17 years. And reports so far this year are running at a significantly lower rate — only 12 in all through April 10.

There are at least two ways to explain the discrepancy. One is that perhaps Americans have become the world’s best-behaved airline passengers — which is at least possible. The other is that the F.A.A. and the Air Transport Association have different definitions of what constitutes “unruly behavior.”

This appears to be the case (though I rather liked the first explanation).

The F.A.A.’s annual unruly behavior statistics come from official reports filed by flight attendants or pilots of a passenger “interfering with the duties of a crew member” for incidents that do not involve security threats. That is a violation of federal law, with potential criminal penalties.

But the International Air Transport Association defines unruly passengers as those who “fail to respect the rules of conduct on board aircraft or to follow the instructions of crew members, and thereby disrupt the good order,” according to Mr. Flint, the spokesman.

The international data showing the increase in unruly passengers come from the group’s database, Safety Trend Evaluation, Analysis and Data Exchange System, which is based on anecdotal reports filed by crew members from 143 world airlines.

That data defines unruly passengers in eight different categories. By far, most of the reports come from incidents of “illegal consumption of narcotics or cigarettes.”

No. 2 is “refusal to comply with safety instructions,” followed by “verbal confrontation.” After that, in far fewer numbers, are reports of physical confrontation, threats, lack of cooperation, harassment and “other riotous behavior.”

Now, I would argue that any parent of a teenager probably can list offenses in many of those categories, especially refusal to follow instructions, verbal confrontation, lack of cooperation and, on occasion “riotous behavior.” Prosecution of some sort might be a reasonable response — but not calling in law enforcement.

So really, should we be alarmed by increases in so-called unruly behavior on the world’s airlines, when at least some of those incidents might reflect only a flight attendant’s annoyance or a passenger’s ignorance of rules against lighting up a cigarette?

Yes, says the world airline group. “It is clear that the instances of unruly and disruptive behavior on board aircraft are evolving in nature and they are increasing steadily and consistently,” according to a report filed by the group last month with the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Now, I don’t mean to minimize incidents when a passenger is causing real trouble, with serious implications for flight safety and even good order on board. In fact, the initiative by the world airline group to call more attention to unruly passengers is being driven by a need to arrive at a global industry consensus on how to encourage nations to agree on “uniformity in respect of the fines and penalties applicable for unruly behavior.”

Currently, the world’s airlines operate under a 1963 treaty, the Convention on Offenses and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft, commonly called the Tokyo Convention. The world airline group is pressing for modernization of that treaty “with the intent of closing gaps and eliminating inconsistencies,” Mr. Flint, the spokesman, said.

That makes sense, of course. But let’s cut the fear-mongering and define our terms clearly.


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